On International Cooperative day celebrated on July 3, the spirit of cooperative needs to be upheld as a nodal agency which protects and promotes the Principles of Cooperation laid by the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA). Cooperatives enjoy the advantage of understanding the needs of local communities, as member-based organisations.

There are more than eight lakh cooperatives, covering 90 per cent of the villages in India and they are more relevant than ever. Throughout the decade, cooperatives have shown a resilient, democratic, sustainable and economically viable model of doing business in all sectors of the economy. They ensure socio-economic development in rural areas through community mobilisation and agricultural growth. They are built on principles like voluntary and open membership, democratic member control, member economic participation, autonomy and independence, education, training and information, cooperation among cooperatives and concern for the community.

Times of crisis

Historically, cooperatives prove extremely effective in times of crisis. Cooperative services during Covid-19 have also been found to minimise the impact of pandemic associated stressors on cooperative members during the study, such as information distribution and financial help. Lack of a steady source of income has led cooperatives to adopt new changes and seize new opportunities to help take social protection measures when most needed by their members and their communities.

Some of the prominent cooperatives societies in India showed their ability to respond to Covid crisis. IFFCO, a successful fertilisers cooperative, established four oxygen plants in Odisha, Gujrat and Uttar Pradesh. Mulukanoor Women’s Cooperative Dairy, India’s first fully women-owned dairy cooperative, arranged oxygen cylinders in their respective areas. Uralungul Labour Contract Cooperative Society in the Kozhikode district sprang into action and installed oxygen plants. The National Cooperative Development Corporation, lent 10,000 crores to cooperatives to set up new healthcare facilities or upgrade existing ones. Despite the supply chain being severely interrupted by the lockdown, AMUL, MILKFED, NAFED, and other organisations supplied essential services to the people and farmers during that period.

Many cooperatives have offered women the possibility of becoming entrepreneurs and having access to a respectable workplace: enhanced access to capital, product and market intelligence, technology and training in management skills and company development. Mann Deshi Foundation encouraged its members to stitch masks.Over 400 women have joined this initiative and produced more than 4,50,000 masks worth over ₹60 lakhs. A small women’s cooperative known as Mangena Muthyalu Samajika in Lakkavaram village of Andhra Pradesh manufactured 6,000 shoe covers, 5,000 lab coats and 15,000 masks and PPE kits with the help of 250 members, most of whom live below the poverty line. Similarly, in The Kotpad Weaving Cooperatives, there is a multitude of masks from the ethnically diverse culture of Kotpad town. Kerala's cooperatives were running 1,300 kitchens across the State delivering food to people in quarantine. In Odisha, women cooperatives engaged 70 lakh members to help around 45,000 needy people by providing necessities and groceries, cooked food and dry ration. Several cooperatives who have limited access to services, infrastructure, and opportunities were subjected to greater socio-cultural restrictions and turned to make masks, aiding in preparing low-cost sanitizers for distribution in rural areas, cooking, and distributing food in local communities, etc.

Community support

From dairy to banking, farming and marketing, these cooperative societies represent an impressive reality in terms of membership, employment and economic share in the most diverse sectors. They continued to have a significant role to play in generating decent jobs for everyone during unprecedented times, together with other cooperative businesses. This has resulted in improved working conditions and improved lifestyles for millions of workers and their families worldwide.

“The cooperatives act as drivers of sustainable development, and remain a strong support to the community in making sustainable development and decent work a reality for all women and men,” Chairman General Guy Ryder, ILO.

Cooperatives form the backbone of the economy by contributing to them improvement of the health of families and groups during the pandemic. Cooperatives, being community-driven organisations built on democratic principles and ideals, are more resilient and better adapt to community needs.As a result, cooperatives play a proactive role in the development of collectivism and the protection of the country's social capital foundation.